Malta faces “prevailing ‘law of Omertà'” – Venice Commission

Members of the Venice Commission delegation visiting Malta reported that they got the impression that the media and civil society in Malta were struggling to hold the government to account.

In the report they state, ‘The delegation of the Venice Commission had the impression that in Malta the media and civil society have difficulty in living up to these needs.’

The footnotes connected to this point states that, ‘Some interlocutors of the Commission even referred to a prevailing “law of omertà”’.

When asked about what they meant by use of this concept, Mr Robert Aquilina, General Secretary for Reppublika told that it referred to the culture of legitimising corruption in Malta.

Omertà refers to the sinister notion of silence, something considered synonymous with the Mafia and the Southern Mediterranean culture.

Mr Robert Aquilina, General Secretary for Reppublika said that during the consultation between members of civil society and delegates of the Commission, they introduced the phrase saying it had relevance to Malta.

‘I explained that this was the case in Malta where you have a particular situation where there is a strong culture of clientalism and the favours done by politicians, the petty favours i mean, to the public in general is used to legitimise the big abuses done by politicians. So it is one system whereby politicians dish out favours to anybody, they dish out favours to the common people and big favours to the business people. So when a person accepts a favour to something he is not entitled, he would be legitimising the big scandals’, the spokesperson said.

The rule of crooks

The Venice Commission Report which was published on Monday, offers a set of legal opinions on ways to reform the Maltese constitution.

The report recommended the surrendering some of the decision making power from the Office of the Prime Minister and creating new roles carrying greater accountability and the the rule of law in Malta.

When asking civil society organisations focused on the rule of law, they explain that the notion of a rule of law in Malta has either been undermined or never fully existed in Malta.

Speaking to Reppublika about this, they explained Malta is ‘not a full democracy at this point’. They explained that rule of law in Malta has been ‘undermined and institutions are being captured’ and are unable to do their job.

Occupy Justice goes further saying that the rule of law in Malta was actually the, ‘rule of crooks and delinquents and whatever else. They only use the rule of law to their advantage and when it suits them, not when it suits the purpose of protecting the people.’

There has not been civil society in this area until now

Until recently, the civil society organisations that have succeeded have been working in the area of environmental issues, according to the civil society organisations we spoke to.

The issues of human rights and the rule of law, the emphasis has been on the government to carry out these roles.

Reppublika in this case believes that doing this has not worked and instead civil society should be leading government in this.

‘We think that these areas should not be left in the hands of politicians because often politicians are the aggressors rather than the individuals given a solution to this problem. Our position is that civil society should develop a very strong role in these areas and lead politicians to improve legislation and our culture,’ Mr Aquilina said.

Occupy Justice goes further saying that with the loss of Daphne Caruana Galizia and no effective opposition standing up to the government, they needed to act.

‘After the first Monday after Daphne’s murder, the opposition asked for a debate in parliament and the government refused, the opposition did not walk out of parliament. So the existence of occupy justice was firstly because there was a lack of opposition that we could feel protected by but no one was going to protect our rights, so that is how occupy justice was born’, they explain.

The assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia has also had an impact on their momentum.

Aquilina explains that her death has ‘to a certain extent had a positive effect of helping civil society to develop. But it is very challenging in the present culture of us Maltese. Many feel that it is not right for civil society to take care of these issues (rule of law and human rights) and they should be left in the hands of politicians, which we think is not the case. But we are seeing a greater number of people who are listening to our message and are starting to understand it. We saw an increase in support, both in regards to Daphne’s assassination as well as to the rule of law and democracy in general.’

The media needs to be an interlocutor

Speaking on behalf of the Maltese Institute of Journalists, Mr Yannick Pace explained that despite the death of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder, the journalistic profession and drive in Malta has not changed.

He explained that it still acts, as a ‘watchdog on public and political life’.

‘The fact that a person in our society was killed because of her writing adds an element of trepidation and it could lead to self-censorship by some journalists covering particular stories. This has become part of the new reality of our profession and we must work against it together.’

He explained that from his perspective, it was ‘government’s role … to ensure that the media can work freely and unhindered and to grant access to government information within a reasonable time-frame. The government must also ensure that it does not undermine the journalistic profession even when it might not agree with stories or positions taken by media houses. Government must strive to create an environment within which the media can freely express itself.’

Although the Venice Commission could not look into the elements of the case surrounding Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder, it does state that the Maltese government has an international obligation ‘to ensure that the media and civil society can play an active role in holding authorities accountable. Criticism of those in power is part of the political debate essential to democratic governance and it is clearly protected under the case-law on Article 10 European Court of Human Rights.’